NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: KG returns to form in Celtics loss

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Before game one of the NBA Finals, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said that the matchup between power forwards Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett would be the key to the series. With all due respect to one of the greatest coaches of all time, games two and three of the finals have not been kind to Jackson’s thesis. 
In game two, Gasol completely dominated Garnett, scoring 26 points on only 10 field goal attempts and holding Garnett to a measly six points and four rebounds. Gasol looked both powerful and fluid, while Garnett looked like a shell of the man who was named the defensive player of the year after the 2007-08 season. Despite Gasol outclassing Garnett on both ends of the floor, Boston ended up beating the Lakers by a final tally of 103-84. 
In game three, it was Garnett who got the better of Gasol throughout the contest. Garnett started the game off with a beautiful up-and-under move and two subsequent easy baskets in transition, and those were the beginning of Garnett’s best game of the series: 25 points and three assists on 11-16 shooting from the field. 
It was one of those rare nights where Garnett had all of his moves working. He went to that little face-up rocker step from the midpost that he’s mastered. He hit a few turnarounds from the left block, including a nearly impossible righty baseline hook in the fourth to keep the Celtics in the game. He stepped out and hit a deep two. Garnett has re-invented himself as a defense/intangibles-first guy with Boston, but it wasn’t that long ago that KG won an MVP award by being nothing less than the most complete offensive big man in basketball. (I will say that rebounding remains a concern for Garnett in this series; KG only snagged six rebounds in game two, and let a few key caroms slip out of his grasp because of his tendency to try and snare rebounds with one hand. Jeff Van Gundy has been eager to point out when Garnett does this to viewers, and he’s been correct in doing so.)
Meanwhile, Pau Gasol, who currently holds the unofficial title of the most complete offensive big man in basketball, struggled to get comfortable all game long. Gasol got roughed up in the post a few times early, didn’t get the whistles, and struggled to get deep position.
As is often the case when Gasol struggles early, the Lakers became reluctant to give him post touches, and the Laker offense often devolved into four guys watching Kobe Bryant trying to make crazy shots. Kobe was forced to take tons of shots that not even he can make consistently, and finished the game 5-22 on shots taken from outside of 10 feet. It was exactly what Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the Celtics defense wanted to see the Lakers doing offensively.
Unfortunately, the best laid plans of mice and NBA head coaches go oft awry, especially when one of the best shooters of all time goes 0-13 from the floor and a slow, 35-year old point guard scores 11 points in the fourth quarter of an NBA Finals game. That will make just about any game plan a moot point, and it’s why the Celtics find themselves trailing 2-1 in this series.
I’d love to say that game three was a moral victory for the Celtics because it was the type of game they wanted to play, but I can’t shake the feeling that this game was more of an exception for Garnett and Gasol than a return to form for either one. More importantly, there are no moral victories when your team is two games away from elimination. 

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.